Microsoft sides with Epic in its fight with Apple, promises a more open MS Store

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In August, Microsoft filed a declaration in support of Epic’s request for an injunction against Apple’s plan to remove its access to iOS development tools. The company said in the filing that the Unreal Engine is “critical technology for numerous game creators,” and that taking away Epic’s ability to support it on iOS and MacOS devices “will harm game creators and gamers.”

Today, Microsoft more overtly took Epic’s side in its campaign against Apple with a declaration of “10 principles for the Microsoft Store on Windows.” The statement makes no direct mention of Epic, Apple, or the iOS App Store, but very clearly draws a line between Microsoft’s online storefront and Apple’s.

“For software developers, app stores have become a critical gateway to some of the world’s most popular digital platforms,” Microsoft said. “We and others have raised questions and, at times, expressed concerns about app stores on other digital platforms.

“However, we recognize that we should practice what we preach. So, today, we are adopting 10 principles—building on the ideas and work of the Coalition for App Fairness (CAF)—to promote choice, ensure fairness and promote innovation on Windows 10, our most popular platform, and our own Microsoft Store on Windows 10.”

Those principles include, in Microsoft’s words:

  • Developers will have the freedom to choose whether to distribute their apps for Windows through our app store. We will not block competing app stores on Windows.
  • We will not block an app from Windows based on a developer’s business model or how it delivers content and services, including whether content is installed on a device or streamed from the cloud.
  • We will not block an app from Windows based on a developer’s choice of which payment system to use for processing purchases made in its app.
  • We will give developers timely access to information about the interoperability interfaces we use on Windows, as set forth in our Interoperability Principles.
  • Every developer will have access to our app store as long as it meets objective standards and requirements, including those for security, privacy, quality, content and digital safety.
  • Our app store will charge reasonable fees that reflect the competition we face from other app stores on Windows and will not force a developer to sell within its app anything it doesn’t want to sell.
  • Our app store will not prevent developers from communicating directly with their users through their apps for legitimate business purposes.
  • Our app store will hold our own apps to the same standards to which it holds competing apps.
  • Microsoft will not use any non-public information or data from its app store about a developer’s app to compete with it.
  • Our app store will be transparent about its rules and policies and opportunities for promotion and marketing, apply these consistently and objectively, provide notice of changes and make available a fair process to resolve disputes.

The first three in the list are basically direct shots at Apple, which forbids other app stores on its devices, mandates the use of its payment system, and dropped a heavy hammer on Epic for stepping out of line, and the “reasonable fees” bit is clearly a zing at the 30 percent cut that Apple takes from transactions on its platform. Microsoft also takes 30 percent on some sales, including “all apps and in-app products” on the Microsoft Store that are purchased through an Xbox console and on all games regardless of platform, but only 15 percent on others.

“As an app developer, we have been frustrated at times by other app stores that require us to sell services in our apps even when our users don’t expect or want them and we cannot do so profitably,” Microsoft said, carefully avoiding any specific mention of the iOS App Store. “So, principle No. 6 provides developers who choose to use the Microsoft Store with the flexibility to decide what to sell in their apps. Over the next several months, we will do the work needed to close any gaps between the current rules and policies in our Microsoft Store and the aspirations set out in these principles.

“Apps play an important role in the daily lives of billions of consumers and help to enable the modern digital economy for millions of businesses. But the innovation that drives the app economy also needs healthy and vibrant digital platforms. We know that regulators and policymakers are reviewing these issues and considering legal reforms to promote competition and innovation in digital markets. We think the CAF principles, and our implementation of them, can serve as productive examples.”

The Coalition for App Fairness, whose founding members include Epic, Spotify, Basecamp, Blockchain.com, and Deezer, said in response that Microsoft’s adoption of the principles “marks a critical moment in the global campaign to level the playing field for all developers.”

“As the first major global platform to commit to meaningful changes for the app ecosystem, the ten principles they have established will provide clarity, promote consumer choice, offer developers an equal opportunity to compete freely, and enable innovation in the years ahead,” it said. 

“Creating a consistent standard of conduct across all platforms takes time. Feedback is essential and we applaud the progress Microsoft has made. The Coalition for App Fairness will collaborate closely with Microsoft to ensure that as their principles evolve, they continue to create a positive impact across the industry.”

Unsurprisingly, Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney was pleased by the development.

The lawsuits between Epic Games and Apple are scheduled to begin on May 3, 2021.